Laurell K. Hamilton
Published 2007 304 pages
Summary (from the book jacket)
From a woman who marries into a family of volatile wizards to a couple fleeing a gang of love-hungry cupids, from a girl who seeks sanctuary in the form of a graceful goose to the disgruntled superhero Captain Housework, readers will revel in the many twists and turns of fortune in these fantastical fairy tales and lush parables.
Even hardened vampire hunter and zombie animator Anita Blake gets blindsided by the disturbing motives of her clients in the new "Those Who Seek Forgiveness" and in "The Girl Who Was Infatuated with Death."
Strange Candy is a collection of fourteen short stories from bestselling fantasy author Laurell K. Hamilton. Best known for her Anita Blake and Meredith Gentry fantasy books Hamilton was an early pioneer of today’s popular urban fantasy sub-genre. The majority of these short stories are from the early days of Hamilton’s writing career, written from the late ’80s to the mid-’90s and published in magazines and anthologies at that time. It’s also worth pointing out that only a couple of these stories actually feature vampires.
Originally Hamilton wanted to write heroic, or epic, fantasy (e.g. books in the style of Tolkien) she published one full length epic fantasy novel Nightseer before the bottom fell out of the epic fantasy market and she swapped to urban fantasy. It’s years since I read Nightseer and the details of the characters and plot and lost to the mists of time but I do remember that I really liked the story and wanted to read more books about that world. In Strange Candy that wish is granted since six of the stories are set in the Nightseer world, and while the stories don’t feature the same characters as Nightseer it’s still a great glimpse into that world.
For readers unfamiliar with the Nightseer world, it’s a typical heroic fantasy setting. Evil wizards lay curses on the unwary, bards sing songs in praise of heroes, mercenaries voyage the land wielding enchanted swords rescuing villages in the grip of evil sorceresses – I think you get the general idea. How much a reader enjoys these stories will probably depend on how much they like this kind of traditional fantasy. Stories that stand out here are “A Token For Celandine” which tells the tale of an elf who’s vowed to protect a healer on a dangerous quest. There’s a typical clash of good and evil with a nice disturbing ending. “Geese” is another favourite. Filled with magic and the battle of good versus evil it’s essentially a love story – with a dark fairy tale quality to it that the Brothers Grimm certainly would approve of.
For the more modern minded fantasy reader there is one science fiction story included in the collection, “Here Be Dragons”. This is another strong stand-out story. The sci-fi story is set in our world, except that people have suddenly developed psychic powers. The story involves a creepy psychic kid and the teacher who has to teach her how to use her powers, it’s horror sci-fi with a deliciously dark edge and a treat to read.
Of the seven urban fantasy stories left in the collection there are a couple of comedy offerings – which I felt were the weakest stories in Strange Candy. “A Lust of Cupids” is a cute comedy romance with little actual comedy or romance in it – nauseatingly cute is the best description I can give it. “A Clean Sweep” is set in a world of superheroes and villains and is the tale of Captain Housework. Both stories are short (even for a short story) and the cute/comedy side of Hamilton’s writing doesn’t work as well as when she’s grappling with dark horror.
“A Scarcity of Lake Monsters” is a much stronger offering. It features a team of cryptozoologists working on a Lake Monster breeding programme. It may sound bizarre, like any story that features the equivalent of the Loch Ness Monster sounds bizarre, but it really works and has all the strengths of the early Anita Blake books, when as the local monster expert Anita would get to investigate the monster attacks like a zoologist might investigate wolf attacks in the wild.
This leads us to the three stories in Strange Candy that are set in the Anita Blake world. The best of the bunch is “Selling Houses” – in fact this is my favourite story in the collection – while it’s set in Anita’s world it actually features characters unrelated to the series. It’s the story of a real estate agent who needs to sell a house where a terrible tragedy has occurred – focusing on regular people finding ways to cope with a newly revealed supernatural world.
Of the two stories featuring Anita Blake, Hamilton’s famous protagonist, “Those Who Seek Forgiveness” is the earliest offering. Written before the Anita Blake books, this is a story from the time when Anita and her world was still developing in the author’s mind. It’s a great story with a gruesome twist and hints at the genius to come with Hamilton’s full length Anita Blake books. “The Girl Who Was Infatuated With Death” is a later offering, set in the time before Narcissus In Chains. Previously this story was published in the “Bite” anthology back in 2005. It gets off to a good start, once again reminding me of Hamilton’s strength as a story teller but sadly what looks like a zombie raising turns out to be nothing more than a vehicle for Anita to visit Jean-Claude and any storyline immediately get buried under an avalanche of rather dull erotica. This just served to remind me why I’ve refused to read Anita Blake books since 2006.
Strange Candy showcases Laurell K. Hamilton’s versatility as a fantasy writer and apart from the couple of mediocre comedy offering all the content is in the collection is remarkably good. This is the first LKH book that I’ve read since 2006 – it’s been in my to-be-read pile for over 3 years (something of a record!) – but frankly I was too traumatised by the descent of the Anita Blake books from exciting, must-be-read, urban fantasy into poor erotica to face it before now. I wish I’d read it sooner because it is a brilliant, well written fantasy collection. It’s telling that the most enjoyable of these stories are from the early days of Hamilton’s career when imaginative fantasy ruled and lust-fuelled sexual fantasies are notable only for their absence.
Note: in the UK Strange Candy is published with the Anita Blake novella Micah in an omnibus edition.
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